Page description language

related topics
{system, computer, user}
{language, word, form}
{math, number, function}
{work, book, publish}

A page description language (PDL) is a language that describes the appearance of a printed page in a higher level than an actual output bitmap. An overlapping term is printer control language, but it should not be confused as referring solely to Hewlett-Packard's PCL. PostScript, one of the most noted page description languages, is a fully fledged programming language, but many PDLs are not complete enough to be considered a programming language. The markup language adaption of the PDL is the page description markup language.

Page description languages are textual or binary data streams. In principle, the same data stream could be rendered multiple times to generate multiple copies of the same image. They are distinct from graphics APIs such as GDI and OpenGL that can be called by software to generate graphical output.


Various page description languages exist:

  • AFP, Advanced Function Presentation (IBM)
  • CPCL, Comtec Printer Control Language (Zebra, Comtec)
  • Diablo
  • DPL, Datamax Printer Language
  • DTPL, Datamax Ticket Printer Language
  • DVI, Device Independent
  • EPL, Eltron Programming Language
  • ESC/P, Epson Standard Code for Printers, simple language mainly used in dot matrix printers
  • ESC/P2, an expanded version of ESC/P
  • HP-GL and HP-GL/2, geometric language introduced by Hewlett-Packard for pen plotters, still in use today for technical drawings
  • InterPress
  • IPDS, Intelligent Printer Data Stream (by IBM)
  • KPDL, Kyocera Page Description Language
  • LCDS/Metacode, a Xerox print stream format used in their older high-speed printers
  • PCL, Printer Command Language (Hewlett-Packard)
  • PDF, Portable Document Format (Adobe Systems)
  • PostScript (Adobe Systems)
  • PPDS, Personal Printer Data Stream by IBM
  • RPCS, Refined Printing Command Stream by Ricoh
  • SPL, Samsung Printer Language, specifications are available at
  • SVG, an XML-based graphics description language primarily developed for the World Wide Web
  • XPS, XML Paper Specification introduced in Windows Vista
  • ZJS, Zenographics ZjStream Page Description Language
  • ZPL, Zebra Programming Language

Some of these languages are or have been made open standards. There are also other proprietary languages whose details are not publicly disclosed.

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